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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Adventures of a Captive

By John Gyles (1680?–1755)

[In Military Service of the Province of Massachusetts, 1698–1736. Memoirs of Odd Adventures, Strange Deliverances, etc. 1736.]

ON the second spring of my captivity my Indian master and his squaw went to Canada; but sent me down the river with several Indians to the Fort, in order to plant corn. The day before we came to the planting field we met two young Indian men, who seemed to be in great haste. After they had passed us I understood that they were going with an express to Canada, and that there was an English vessel at the mouth of the river. I, not perfect in the language, nor knowing that English vessels traded with them in time of war, supposed a peace was concluded on, and that the captives would be released; and was so transported with the fancy, that I slept but little, if at all, that night. Early the next morning we came to the village, where the ecstasy ended, for I had no sooner landed, but three or four Indians dragged me to the great wigwam, where they were yelling and dancing round James Alexander, a Jersey man, who was taken from Falmouth, in Casco Bay. This was occasioned by two families of Cape Sable Indians, who having lost some friends by a number of English fishermen, came some hundred of miles to revenge themselves on the poor captives! They soon came to me, and tossed me about till I was almost breathless, and then threw me into the ring to my fellow captive, and took him out again, and repeated their barbarities to him. And then I was hauled out again by three Indians, by the hair of my head, and held down by it, till one beat me on the back and shoulders so long that my breath was almost beat out of my body. And then others put a tomahawk into my hand, and ordered me to get up and dance and sing Indian, which I performed with the greatest reluctance, and in the act seemed resolute to purchase my death, by killing two or three of those monsters of cruelty, thinking it impossible to survive their bloody treatment. But it was impressed on my mind, “’Tis not in their power to take away your life;” so I desisted.

Then those Cape Sable Indians came to me again like bears bereaved of their whelps, saying, “Shall we who have lost relations by the English, suffer an English voice to be heard among us?” etc. Then they beat me again with the axe. Then I repented that I had not sent two or three of them out of the world before me, for I thought that I had much rather die than suffer any longer. They left me the second time, and the other Indians put the tomahawk into my hand again, and compelled me to sing. And then I seemed more resolute than before to destroy some of them; but a strange and strong impulse that I should return to my own place and people, suppressed it as often as such a motion rose in my breast. Not one of the Indians showed the least compassion; but I saw the tears run down plentifully on the cheeks of a Frenchman that sat behind; which did not alleviate the tortures that poor James and I were forced to endure for the most part of this tedious day; for they were continued till the evening; and were the most severe that ever I met with in the whole six years that I was captive with the Indians.

After they had thus inhumanly abused us, two Indians took us up and threw us out of the wigwam, and we crawled away on our hands and feet, and were scarce able to walk, etc., for several days. Some time after they again concluded on a merry dance, when I was at some distance from the wigwam dressing leather, and an Indian was so kind as to tell me that they had got James Alexander, and were in search of me. My Indian master and his squaw bid me run as for my life into a swamp and hide, and not to discover myself, unless they both came to me, for then I might be assured the dance was over. I was now master of their language, and a word or a wink was enough to excite me to take care of one. I ran to the swamp, and hid in the thickest place that I could find. I heard hollowing and whooping all around me; sometimes they passed very near, and I could hear some threaten, and others flatter me, but I was not disposed to dance; and if they had come upon me, I resolved to show them a pair of heels, and they must have had good luck to have catched me.

I heard no more of them till about evening (for I think I slept), when they came again, calling “Chon, Chon,” but John would not trust them. After they were gone, my master and his squaw came where they told me to hide, but could not find me; and when I heard them say with some concern, that they believed that the other Indians had frightened me into the woods, and that I was lost, I came out, and they seemed well pleased, and told me that James had had a bad day of it; that as soon as he was released he ran away into the woods, and they believed he was gone to the Mohawks. James soon returned and gave me a melancholy account of his sufferings; and the Indians’ fright concerning the Mohawks passed over.

They often had terrible apprehension of the incursion of the Mohawks. One very hot season a great number gathered together at the village: and, being a very droughty people, they kept James and myself night and day fetching water from a cold spring that ran out of a rocky hill about three-quarters of a mile from the fort. In going thither, we crossed a large interval—corn-field—and then a descent to a lower interval before we ascended the hill to the spring. James being almost dead as well as I, with this continual fatigue, contrived to fright the Indians. He told me of it, but conjured me to secrecy, yet said he knew that I could keep counsel. The next dark night James, going for water, set his kettle on the descent to the lowest interval, and ran back to the fort, puffing and blowing, as in the utmost surprise, and told his master that he saw something near the spring, that looked like Mohawks (which he said were only stumps—aside). His master, being a most courageous warrior, went with James to make discovery, and when they came to the brow of the hill, James pointed to the stumps, and withal touched his kettle with his toe, which gave it motion down hill, and at every turn of the kettle the bail clattered; upon which James and his master could see a Mohawk in every stump in motion, and turned tail to, and he was the best man that could run fastest. This alarmed all the Indians in the village. They, though about thirty or forty in number, packed off, bag and baggage, some up the river and others down, and did not return under fifteen days; and the heat of the weather being finely over, our hard service abated for this season. I never heard that the Indians understood the occasion of the fright, but James and I had many a private laugh about it.

But my most intimate and dear companion was one John Evans, a young man taken from Quochecho. We, as often as we could, met together, and made known our grievances to each other, which seemed to ease our minds; but when it was known by the Indians, we were strictly examined apart, and falsely accused, that we were contriving to desert. But we were too far from the sea to have any thought of that: and when they found that our story agreed, we received no punishment. An English captive girl about this time (who was taken by Medocawando) would often falsely accuse us of plotting to desert, but we made the truth so plainly appear, that she was checked and we released. But the third winter of my captivity he went into the country, and the Indians imposed a heavy burden on him, though he was extreme weak with long fasting; and as he was going off the upland over a place of ice which was very hollow, he broke through, fell down, and cut his knee very much, notwithstanding he travelled for some time. But the wind and cold were so forcible, that they soon overcame him, and he sat or fell down, and all the Indians passed by him. Some of them went back the next day after him, or his pack, and found him, with a dog in his arms, both froze as stiff as a stake. And all my fellow-captives were dispersed and dead; but through infinite and unmerited goodness I was supported under, and carried through, all difficulties.